Monday, January 08, 2007

Ministry by Intuition or Revelation?

Thoughts on Leviticus 9:1-10:2.

How is it that ministry ought to be done? Is it fair to say that "God has given us brains and intuition", so we should follow our instincts to implement every program, strategy, idea, etc., we come up with? Or, is there a parameter in which we ought to function? Barriers which should confine the nature of our ministry in the church? Good questions...let's think about an answer.

On Sunday nights, our congregation has recently started looking at the big picture of Scripture. The purpose is to reacquaint ourselves with the overarching themes of Scripture, so that our times of personal and small group Bible study can be better informed and more meaningful. We began by spending several weeks looking at the doctrine of the Word of God...its form, canon, and characteristics. Then, beginning with Genesis, we have overviewed a book of the Bible each week. Recently, we looked at the book of Leviticus, which prompted this particular blog.

Leviticus is one of the books that people refer to when they talk about how much trouble they have in reading the Bible. January finds many eager Bible readers quickly getting through Genesis and Exodus. However, when the page turns to Leviticus, it's as if they have hit the warning strips on the side of the interstate... "Danger, danger! Potential misunderstanding and derailed reading plan!" It doesn't need to be this way! Consider this quote from Paul House: "Though it is hard to envision at first because of its unfamiliar subject matter, even simple reflection on Leviticus demonstrates that this is one of the most theologically oriented books in Scripture. After all, it covers in some detail how the holy God defines sin, forgives sin and helps people avoid sin. It discusses how God's will is revealed and how God's presence can be assured. Leviticus also describes how God's people may be declared holy or how they may be what God envisioned them from their origin." Having this kind of mindset will truly transform the way you read this book.

Within Leviticus, chapters 8-10 deal specifically with the priests, and this brings me back to the question at hand. How is it that ministry ought to be done? Having already described how the offerings were to be offered and accepted in chapters 1-7, we now see the work of the ministry beginning. The priests have been set apart (ch. 8); now, the "daily grind" begins, and what a beginning it was!

One of the key statements with regard to the work of the priests was made in 9:6 - "Then Moses said, 'This is what the Lord has commanded you to do, so that the glory of the Lord may appear to you.'" Did you catch that? Within the work of the ministry, there is potential to see the glory of the Lord! What priest wouldn't want that? What pastor wouldn't want that? What church wouldn't want that? All the blood, sweat, and tears of administering sacrifices, judging between "clean" and "unclean", the teaching of the law, etc., was laid out with the promise that "the glory of the Lord may appear to you."

First of all, check your heart. Do you want to see the glory of the Lord in the ministry of your church? In your family? Does your soul resonate with Isaiah 26:8? "Yes, Lord, walking in the way of your laws, we wait for you; your name and your renown are the desire of our hearts." If not, then this is where to begin. Stop now, and ask the Lord to search your heart and renew your passion for Him.

Second, if you want the glory of the Lord to shine through the ministry of your church, then what is required? Is there anything required? Well, look at Lev. 9:6 again - "This is what the Lord has commanded you to do, so that the glory of the Lord may appear to you." There is a condition, and it is linked to the commands of the Lord. In the Scripture, God has revealed what ministry should look like, by command, principle, and example. If the glory of the Lord is to be seen in our ministry, it will be in direct proportion to our aligning ourselves with God's divine pattern. Let's check the text to see what happens.

We find that in the rest of chapter nine, the priests do ministry exactly as they should. We see this in verse 10 ("as the Lord commanded"), verse 16 ("in the prescribed way"), and verse 21 ("as...commanded"). What was the result? "When [Moses and Aaron] came out, they blessed the people; and the glory of the Lord appeared to all the people. Fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the fat portions on the altar. And when all the people saw it, they shouted for joy and fell face down" (9:23b-24). The glory of God appears among them and joyful worship breaks out! What a time of ministry!

Then, as if to display the polar opposite, chapter 10 opens with Nadab and Abihu offering "unauthorized fire before the Lord, contrary to his command." What happened? Well, fire from the presence of the Lord fell again, but this time, it "consumed them, and they died before the Lord." How could it be wrong? They had good was "before the Lord", after all. Unfortunately for these two priests, the intent of the ministry was not all that mattered...the instructions given by God mattered as well. Good intentions are not the biblical reflection of faith...obedience is the outpouring of faith. Faith would have kept Nadab and Abihu within the bounds of God's instruction, but disbelief led to the the notion that "it's the thought that counts".

What does that mean for us? It means that as we do ministry, whether as pastors or as Joe Church Member, the Scripture must instruct and conform our motives and methods. Good ideas that are not examined through the lens of Scripture can quickly lead to getting burned (pun intended). Walt Kaiser put it this way: "The point is that those who by virtue of their office are called to draw near to God constantly place themselves in a perilous, as well as privileged, position...Any act, or failure thereof, that may detract from the deity's absolute holiness, and thus tend to treat God in a light, trite, unthinking manner, would immediately expose those who draw near to possible danger."

There is great gravity in serving God as one of His ministers...let us live in that reality, and let us minister by revelation, not intuition.